Arcane Sanctum: Trying out a new mage spec
This week’s column was suggested by BeckieSueDalton who asked for a guide to trying out a new spec. I think this is a fantastic idea and it can apply to many mages; veterans, alts and new casters alike.
Why a new spec?
There are many reasons why you might want to try out a new spec. We’ve all had those moments when whatever spec you’re currently playing can start to feel a little stale. The same spec, even if it’s a great one, can get monotonous.
The fortunes of different specs can rise and fall. A spec that’s under-performing can be swapped out for a new one. If you find yourself unhappy with your DPS, it could be that getting a fresh perspective could make a big difference. Or perhaps you’ve just leveled your mage and never even tried a different spec besides your leveling one.
Being a versatile mage is a great goal. You may really like one spec and identify with it primarily, but now that we have dual-spec it can be really useful to try out and maintain a secondary spec. You never know, you may find yourself falling in love with an entirely new aspect of your mage.
The first thing you should do is take a few moments to consider what new spec you’d like to try. I’ll give you a quick overview of all three in this article. Once you’ve done that, you can start moving on to the nitty gritty of actually getting your new spec set up.
Before you do anything at all, take a screenshot of your current UI for whatever spec you’re used to playing. (You’ll thank me later!) Now, you probably have dual talent specialization and keep a secondary spec already, but may just never play it. Switch to that and dust it off. If it’s the spec you’re planning on giving a try, that’s great and you can just straighten it up. If you’ve never purchased dual spec, you’ll need to visit any class trainer to learn it. It’s only 10 gold to purchase. If you need to reset an existing specialization, the class trainer does that too but the price is variable depending on how recently you’ve done it.
If there are mage specs you’ve never played before, you can use the following overviews to briefly get a sense of whether you might enjoy them. A complete “how to play” guide is beyond the scope of this column, but I’ve included links to several different guides from different sources for more comprehensive play advice.
Arcane is one of the simplest mage specs in terms of number of buttons but not necessarily simple to play. It excels at burst DPS of any kind with minimal ramp up time. It may seem “easy” at first glance but the nuance involved with mana and Arcane Charge management can hold even seasoned mage players’ interest. With arcane you can expect to play a turret role on many encounters. If this is a style of damage dealing that appeals to you, you may love playing an arcane mage.
- Incredible burst DPS when necessary with no “build up” necessary on the target itself
- Really strong single-target DPS, arcane mages have been ranking very high in Warlords especially
- AoE DPS requires close proximity or a talent change
- DPS can be difficult to sustain in situations/encounters with heavy movement
Intellect > Mastery > Haste > Multistrike > Crit > Versatility
Mage Mana Bar: Provides additional burn/conserve mana information relevant for arcane.
Fire is an attractive spec for anyone who has ever wanted to hurl a giant boulder of fire at someone’s face (preferably a warlock). Fire relies on critical strike to deliver plenty of big procs. It has a more DoT-based playstyle than any other spec, although this has been somewhat reduced in Warlords. Note that because of its heavy reliance on critical strike, Fire does not perform very well at lower gear levels. You absolutely can still play it, but you’ll see a major difference along with gear improvement.
- AoE cleave can be extremely powerful on fights with large numbers of closely grouped adds
- Single-target DPS includes a combination of DoTs and instant cast spells, making these mages fairly mobile unless Rune of Power is used
- Not ideal for burst DPS, their damage requires some ramp-up
- Certain amount of RNG component can make damage highly variable and not always as consistent as other specs
Intellect > Crit > Mastery > Haste > Multistrike > Versatility
CombustionHelper: Detailed information about Ignite to help time Combustion ideally.
Frost has moved out of the “PvP only” niche that it seemed to occupy for years. This spec is all about snappy burst AoE damage and control. While that does make it very well suited to PvP, it also offers a proc-based priority system of damage dealing that’s been modernized and is just fine for PvE. Particularly notable is that frost tends to perform better at lower item levels than the other two specs and makes an excellent “gearing up” spec.
- Excellent burst DPS and strong single target DPS
- Performs well at lower gear levels and is versatile for many different types of content
- Relies on procs that can sometimes be unreliable leading to somewhat monotonous Frostbolt casting
- Depending on talent choice, sometimes mob location restrictions become frustrating (e.g. Prismatic Crystal)
Intellect > Multistrike >> Crit > Mastery > Haste> Versatility
Beyond your existing mage addons, there are no specific addons for frost.
The first thing you should do is get your UI ready to play in your new spec. Remember that UI screenshot from before? Now you can use it to make sure that your new spec is as similar to your previous one as possible. You can’t discount how much muscle memory matters. Wherever your Counterspell keybind is, make it the same in your secondary spec. Similarly, you can take key spec abilities and bind them to keys that you’re used to. In that sense your binds may be “AoE with Targeting Reticule,” or “Single Target Instant” buttons more than they are “Flamestrike” or “Ice Lance,” etc. What this does is set you up to get used to the rhythm of a new spec before you’ve even begun to play.
Depending on whether your UI includes these cues, you should also configure any notification addons you have to alert you to important buffs or abilities (Tell Me When, Weak Auras, etc). The default Blizzard UI does a decent job of this now, but if it’s something you’re used to you will want it in your other spec as well.
After you’ve done this, take a look at the gear available to you. Do you have pieces of equal item level that you held onto but weren’t wearing because they weren’t ideal for your spec? Check out all the gear you have that you aren’t wearing and look at the itemization. Check out the stat weights for your new chosen spec. Are there pieces you can swap out easily to boost your preferred stats? Trinkets can be particularly useful for this. You might take a trinket with crit or a crit proc and swap it for a mastery or haste trinket and that can make a big difference in getting your new spec set up. Use the in-game outfit management to save the gear configuration for your old and new spec.
The next thing you’ll have to do is unfortunately adjust your gems and enchants. In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to share gear between specs, but that’s fairly unlikely. So you have to decide for yourself whether you want to overwrite anything that will cost you a fair amount of money in the future. You can still try a new spec without swapping your critical strike for mastery, but keep in mind that your results will be a bit suboptimal.
The first place you should go is a target dummy (you don’t even have to leave your garrison!). Take what you know about the spec’s rotation and just start hitting the dummy. You don’t care what your numbers are at this point. The dummy is just to get you used to the new abilities. Adjust your notifications and move around any buttons that feel awkward. Once you start to feel comfortable, move on to other things! Do the Apexis daily quest or solo a few small elites. After that, if you’re enjoying the spec and you want to branch out, start dipping your toes in whatever content interests you. LFR is a fairly safe environment to test things in a real raiding situation. Just start out at an easier level of whatever you normally like doing – hit up a battleground before you jump feet first into arena.
Give yourself time to adapt to the new spec, and refer back to any guides you’ve been using if necessary. Being “new” to your class again can be a strange feeling, but once you’ve mastered more than one spec you can keep your gameplay feeling fresh and you’ll be able to adapt to the ideal spec for any circumstance!
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